May 31, 2019 / 2:54 PM / 3 months ago

Brazil snubs Venezuelan opposition envoy as doubts rise on Guaido

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil withdrew an invitation to the envoy for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to present her diplomatic credentials, she said on Friday, and the government in Brasilia said it would decide later whether to accept them.

FILE PHOTO - Venezuelan opposition representative Maria Teresa Belandria, who was received as her country's official ambassador to Brazil, smiles after a news conference in Brasilia, Brazil February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro still recognizes Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, his spokesman said. Guaido’s envoy, Maria Teresa Belandria, played down the idea that the snub reflected skepticism from Bolsonaro’s government.

Diplomatic analysts said mounting evidence that a change of government in Venezuela is not imminent may have Bolsonaro and his aides wondering if they overplayed their support for Guaido.

Former military officers making up about a third of Brazil’s cabinet have been wary of provoking Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, warning against moves that could tip an economic and political crisis into violence across Brazil’s northern border.

Belandria had been invited to present her credentials at the presidential palace along with ambassadors from other countries next Tuesday, but the government changed its mind.

“I was uninvited,” she told Reuters, but went on to dismiss any suggestion the snub reflected diminished support for Guaido.

“There will be another opportunity,” she said. “Brazil’s support continues to be strong, solid and decisive. It’s merely a protocol matter.”

Presidential spokesman General Otavio Rego Barros said Belandria was the representative of Venezuela’s “legitimate president” and denied an invitation had been withdrawn.

“Reception or not of the letters of accreditation will be assessed at a more convenient moment,” he told Reuters.

Brazilian newspapers Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo reported that Bolsonaro’s government had canceled her invitation because ex-military aides want to pursue dialogue with Maduro, who also has an official representative in Brasilia.

“They realize Brazil has to deal with the reality that Maduro is not going anywhere right now and, even if he leaves, Guaido will not be president and a general will likely take his place,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of foreign relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

Guaido invoked Venezuela’s constitution in January to assume the interim presidency, saying Maduro’s reelection was not legitimate. Brazil and most Western countries have since backed him as head of state.

However, the Brazilian government has not revoked the credentials of Maduro’s representatives in Brasilia.

Guaido’s press team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela recently reopened its border crossing to Brazil after a nearly three-month closure, and Bolsonaro’s aides are working to restore more regular power supply for the Brazilian state of Roraima, which depends on the Venezuelan grid.

Bolsonaro, like many heads of state in the region, has been sharply critical of the Maduro government, and advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump have pressed him to take a harder line, raising speculation about positioning U.S. troops in Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s top security adviser, retired General Augusto Heleno, told Reuters two weeks ago that Venezuela’s armed forces will decide Maduro’s future and could depose him to lead a transition to democratic elections.

“Recognition of Guaido’s envoy was never agreed to by the military, who vetoed the idea of a U.S. base in Brazil from day one,” said Brazilian diplomat Paulo Roberto de Almeida.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassú; editing by Brad Haynes, Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish

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